So what does the term kosher actually mean?

When most people hear the term kosher they believe that it only applies to food which complies with certain rules regarding source and preparation but in fact it applies to all manner of objects since the literal interpretation is ' suitable for ritual use '. However where foodstuffs are concerned the rules are quite strict and involved and it is debatable whether they were initially framed for reasons of religion, or those of quite basic hygiene since in a hot country where food could spoil extremely quickly it was necessary to ensure that the population was not poisoned by foods which could decay too quickly, producing excessive levels of toxins. Hence the prohibitions upon consuming blood, shellfish, pork, snakes and insects etc. The preparation of food is also strictly subscribed; cooking utensils should not have been used for preparing nonkosher food, meat and milk should not be mixed, animals should be slaughtered in a particular way.

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Kosher slaughtering methods are looked upon as being controversial in some areas since there are people who consider these to be cruel to the victims. The correct method is to draw an extremely sharp knife smoothly and quickly over the neck of the beast or fowl, thus severing the main arteries, and then allowing the blood to drain from the body. It has been argued however with some weight of scientific evidence that this procedure renders the victim unconscious immediately and that there is therefore no suffering involved; it is usual for the victim to kick and struggle after the cut is made but whether this is a conscious action or merely a reflex muscular reaction is perhaps open to debate.

After slaughtering the meat should be salted to remove the blood; again an excellent way of preserving the meat against putrefaction. There is a general ban up on eating meat from beasts which have died of natural causes, a very sensible restriction since the meat could be contaminated by disease, or from animals which have been killed and torn up by other animals, in which case there is a possibility of disease as above, contamination by the killers or putrefaction if the time of death of the victim was not known to any degree of certainty.

Copyright Lawrence Black, 2009

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